Bill Bohn was named executive chairman of Associated Financial Group in January 2015 and also serves as executive vice president for Private Client & Institutional Services for Associated Banc-Corp. Actively involved in New North, Inc. and Feeding America of Eastern Wisconsin, Bohn sat down with Insight Executive Editor Margaret LeBrun to talk about investing in personal funds as well as time and talent in the community.

We’re in the midst of an unprecedented low interest rate environment worldwide. The fact that we have significant portions of Europe with negative interest rates is having implications across the board; it’s driving the investment valuation environment into areas they really haven’t been before.

What we’ve seen since the Brexit vote is a recovery in the equity market, and that’s been supported in part by this low interest rate environment. People need to get yields so they’re looking for dividend-paying stocks. The typical price-to-earnings ratios don’t necessarily apply in an environment where you have such low interest rates. It’s been causing some challenges for people using their traditional modeling tools and traditional ways of looking at value in businesses.

When we talk to clients the key is the ability to understand their specific goals and develop an investment strategy that matches that; it’s a custom portfolio management approach. We prefer not to be reactive to external factors that we don’t control.

There are a couple things unique about Northeast Wisconsin. We have a very entrepreneurial spirit and you have a lot of self-made people who built businesses and accumulated wealth; they like to invest in themselves and they like to have their outside investments complement that philosophy and help them counter balance against those risks. We take that into consideration as we help them to understand how that fits within an overall, custom portfolio management strategy.

Many of them are very dependent on talent to do that. It becomes important to partner with folks who provide quality employees for us, whether that be the universities, technical schools or training programs.

Organizations like New North are very active trying to help create an environment where this is an attractive place for young people to stay and live and work. The more collectively that we tell that story and create an environment within our communities that enables that, the better off all businesses will be.

I’m on the board of New North and I spend time helping tell the story to companies who we would like to participate, not only with funding, but be engaged in the work groups. We sit down with them and say here’s why Associated Bank believes in New North and is active in it and I want to give you the benefit of things I think might help your business.   

Effective July 1, I became chairman of the board for Feeding America of Eastern Wisconsin. I was vice chair before that and I chaired the capital campaign committee for the new facility we built in Little Chute (about two years ago, which replaced the one in Omro). The business model intrigued me —  it’s very efficient and collaborative. It’s a total logistics and distribution model, using economies of scale and leveraging wholesale capabilities and expertise. We gather the donations of food from very large organizations such as Schreiber Foods, Target, Walmart and Del Monte, who have truckloads of food. They’re very concerned about quality compliance liability exposure.

Feeding America was founded by a Rotary club in Milwaukee and we’re part of the national network. We may have a surplus supply of cheese or milk, for example, and in Nebraska they may have a lot of corn and peas. We’re developing a strategic plan to actually solve hunger. We’re trying to collaborate with organizations that can provide the resources and support so eventually people can become self-sufficient.